During our trip to Vancouver, British Columbia this spring, GateWorld’s editors had the great privilege of sitting down for a face-to-face conversation with a true Stargate legend. Tony Amendola has been playing the wise Jaffa Master Bra’tac since the very early days of SG-1‘s first season, and over eight years has brought a tremendous screen presence to one of the show’s best-loved characters.
Amendola’s distinguished acting career includes films like The Mask of Zorro, Blow, and SCI FI Pictures’ recent Crimson Force. On television he has appeared in such series as Seinfeld, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Poltergeist: The Legacy, Crusade, The X-Files, Angel, CSI, The West Wing, and many others.
At the time of our chat Tony was only minutes beyond his stage panel at Creation’s 2005 “Celebration For the Fans” convention. He had received word that Bra’tac would be back for an upcoming episode in the show’s ninth season, but hadn’t filmed it yet. In our interview, Tony talks about the new challenges of the Free Jaffa Nation and how Bra’tac fits in, his plans to return this season, his hopes for Bra’tac’s ultimate fate, and more.
GateWorld’s video interview with Tony Amendola runs about 10 minutes, and is also available in audio format for your listening convenience. The full interview is also transcribed below!
GateWorld: Mr. Tony Amendola, Bra’tac, thanks for being with us here at GateWorld.net today!
Tony Amendola: Thank you.
GW: Season Eight brought some amazing developments for Bra’tac and the free Jaffa nation being established, the defeat of the Goa’uld. Tell us what you think of the end of Season Eight and the effect that that’s had on your character after so many years leading up to this.
TA: It probably is best summed up in terms of: “Be careful what you wish for, or what you dream of.” And that’s what is so great about it, because they’ve finally realized a dream, this possibility. But dealing with the reality of it, of factions and powerful people and personalities, is really wonderful.
As all sci-fi, it mirrors the modern world. It’s not about anything that’s out there. It’s about everything that’s down here. If you look at the world today and you look at the world over the last two millennia it’s a similar thing. So it’s very exciting.
GW: There’s quite a bit about the Free Jaffa Nation, obviously. A major character in Season Nine is Lou Gossett’s character. Have you found out when Bra’tac is going to be back yet?
TA: Yes. I’m coming back next month, so I’m not quite certain if that’s episode eight, nine — something like that. In part in this season with Lou and with Ben and with Claudia and Beau … these are wonderful actors. They have to establish their back stories, their relationships to the other people. And then, hopefully, together, the satellite performers can come back and deal with them. I’m really looking forward to working with Lou and with Chris again. That’s very exciting to me.
GW: Did you have any idea when you started what a long and full run this would be for this character?
TA: You never do. As a matter of fact I’ve told people before: I often do auditions and they say, “Hey, by the way, this is a recurring character.” Inevitably it means, “We’ll get you for less money now.” It’s like a little ploy.
The interesting thing about this one is that I was never approached as a recurring character. It was never presented to me that way and I was really happy about that. I did a job, they liked it, they brought me back and kept bringing me back. It was really a pure, instinctual thing.
I loved doing the character and they loved writing. And from that a lot of stuff developed. Probably Brad wrote me this episode, “Threshold,” which is still my favorite episode. And I’ve had some really, really wonderful ones with tons of back story.
No, I had no idea. I had just no idea, and I’m still amazed because rather than winding down, the thing is actually expanding, the show.
GW: Season Nine in particular.
TA: Year, and with these new characters … The arc of a series is sort of like a diamond. It starts down here, nobody knows, it goes up to here, and then maybe about the fifth, sixth year it goes … sixth, seven. This one was very unique because no one really knew the show — and it was written well and produced well — but because it was on Showtime. It went to SCI FI in syndication and the show is still going like that. There’s no movement towards that yet! I think it shocked a lot of people.
It’s hard for actors that are on for 22 episodes, very, very difficult for them. Because 14 hours a day becomes their life. I have the freedom — I just did “The Legend of Zorro” down in Mexico. I was in Bulgaria doing something called “Crimson Force” in the winter. So I can come back a little fresher. But I always tell them if they ever want to switch places, they know where to find me! [Laughter]
GW: Do you think that with the defeat of the Goa’uld, do you think that Bra’tac could learn to be anything other than the warrior that he is? Could Bra’tac ever become a politician?
TA: Yes. Again, getting back to the modern world: Just look at history. Look at Eisenhower. If you look to the Shakespeare plays in particular — the leaders were always the warriors as well. Now we’re so compartmentalized. Everything is so specialized. He’s an old-world type of guy. He’s more of a renaissance guy where there’s everything. It doesn’t surprise me if he were to spout poetry. It doesn’t surprise you when he goes out and deals with some Jaffa that are twice as big as him. On some level it’s more about what’s in here and the wisdom.
GW: In “Maternal Instinct” it was almost as if Bra’tac found his own religion with the monk at Kheb. He wasn’t able to give up his symbiote at that point, he said, but he rests in the belief that that time is still ahead of him. Do you think that something could still spawn from that?
TA: Yes. At some point that has to be dealt with. At the moment he doesn’t have the symbiote. He’s on tretonin, but that’s another issue. But the notion of delegating power, of giving up power — part of the problem when you look at leaders is again a Shakespearean theme. “When do you give up power to the young?”
Bra’tac is very comfortable with that. As a matter of fact, it’s Teal’c who insists that he still stay involved. And Bra’tac, right from the beginning, was saying, “No, it’s your time. I’m not doing this for me. It’s you.”
And that’s why there’s such close and really well-written observations of Teal’c’s, when we lose our symbiotes, that Teal’c all of the sudden is not himself. Because it’s like a mental kind of depression. An absence of this power. Bra’tac says, “No, no. Yes, it was here. It gave us a lot, but where the real power was here and here,” to convince Teal’c [“Orpheus”].
That’s very powerful for me personally, in terms of an actor. I get a lot of actors that come up to me and you like to mentor them but also be honest with them. And I have been mentored.
GW: Do you think that Bra’tac is, in any sense, a pessimist? He’s often going on about “The time is no longer for me, a man of a hundred and thirty some-odd years.” He’s always quoting his age.
TA: But don’t forget, in that same episode we’re talking about, I came out and say, “I feel like a man of a hundred, or a man of eighty!” That was a great thing. I sort of ad-libbed that line, told them I was going to and they used it. I don’t see that as pessimism. I see that as realism.
Wasn’t it sad that the pope passed away and all those things — and of course, yes, it was sad. You may not agree with all of his doctrine but he was a great man in that he was consistent, and the fact that it was time for him. Strangely enough his suffering that he publicly, rather than being sequestered, he publicly allowed himself to be seen in a frail state.
I think that’s a similar thing. He knows that his time is coming. I don’t mean to compare Bra’tac to the pope. But I’m talking about that state. And so it’s very, very interesting. I see him as a realist, not as a pessimist at all.
GW: The character is certainly beloved by fans, but the writers have this wonderful fondness of killing off long-term characters. Is this a fear for you every time you receive a new script?
TA: Yeah! I know it’s coming. I always say, “I’d love to go out on a bang with a beginning, middle, and end.” You have ideas of how it should be, but in part because I was an obvious choice to die I was almost safer. It wasn’t going to be a surprise! I think I was fortunate in that way.
I do admit, I do love doing the show. And occasionally when I get a new script, I look back and go, “Oh … oh, good!” Because I respect Brad Wright. I hope it never comes, but when the time comes I think he created the character, he loves the character. He’ll send him out well.
GW: Right. You won’t be short-changed.
TA: I hope not. I hope not. Sometimes time or something will create an expediency, a need for that. But I hope not.
GW: You’ve been doing a lot of fan conventions lately. What is it you like about meeting fans face-to-face?
TA: I do about three, maybe four a year, depending. The first thing I love is the travel. I went to New Zealand. How often do you get a chance to go to New Zealand? So that’s very attractive to me. Also the fans, because you’re grateful to them. By and large they’re extremely nice and warm. The show is there because of you, so it’s a strange thing that in some of these events we’re put on a pedestal. We are your Frankenstein! [Laughter]
GW: And a lovely Frankenstein you are!
TA: Thank you very much.
GW: Tony Amendola, thanks so much for talking to us.
TA: Thank you for seeking me out. I look forward to checking you out on the Web. I haven’t seen your stuff.